Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Computex buzz: ARM vs Intel keeps people talking

Considering the rapid growth of Android-based mobile computing devices, the mobile segment really is on a tear. Nvidia recently pointed out that the cumulative shipments of iOS and Android devices took just two years to reach 20 million installed users, compared to eight years for the Mac/Windows PC side to reach the same milestone.

According to Nvidia CEO Huang Jen-Hsun, Android is the fastest growing operating system in computing history and that speaks to the fact that every single company in the world is desperate for a mobile computing strategy. Android has been sufficiently well defined and sufficiently open as an operating system so that mobile computing companies including Dell, Acer, Asustek, Samsung and LG can better reinvent themselves as complete computing companies, Huang stated. Huang added that in the tablet market consumers do not care whether their products use x86- or ARM-based processor and this will serve as a great opportunity for Nvidia to step up in the market.

However, Intel has also made plans to step up in the market, with the company recently announcing it is accelerating an already aggressive roadmap for developing its system on chip (SoC) platform to serve the tablet and smartphone areas. Normally Intel has a new process technology every two years but the company now plans to cut the time down to every year. This will start from 32nm products next year and then 22nm in 2013 and 14nm in 2014, according to Navin Shenoy, general manager, Asia-Pacific region for Intel.

The way to think about this shift is that Intel is making a major shift to ultra-mobility and a major shift to ultra-low power, Shenoy explained.

ARM is currently the leader in that area, and the mobile computing market, especially in terms of smartphones, is currently enjoying strong growth based on a convergence of factors. According to Steve Mollenkopf, EVP of Qualcomm, advancements in semiconductor design have substantially increased the amount of computing power that can be put into the small thermal envelope, while high-speed 3G and 4G networks really enable an enormous amount of connectivity to occur with mobile devices, so a lot of data can be quickly delivered to and enjoyed by mobile devices.

In addition, the market is really evolving that the dynamics of the software market have changed a great deal, Mollenkopf stated. Most developers used to focus on the PC ecosystem, and a major priority driving software vendors in the past was making sure that they could maintain backward compatibility for their applications. Now, most people are developing for smartphone platforms and those platforms are migrating up, breaking the link to being encumbered by legacy applications.

Nvidia's Huang commented on Intel's roadmap adjustment by stating that the issue with Atom is not that it is an SoC, but that it is x86, and x86 is more suited for the PC platform; ARM is the platform for mobile. There are 250,000 apps that run on ARM in the mobile arena, Huang pointed out, while adding that there is nothing that is going to bring x86 into mobile unless maybe Apple does it.

While Nvidia, Qualcomm, ARM and Intel have been willing to speak out about the evolving mobile computing industry during Computex, one company that has been strangely quiet has been Microsoft. Earlier this year, Microsoft announced its plans to support its upcoming Windows 8 OS on ARM processors and this represents a great opportunity for ARM silicon vendors to make further inroads into the PC industry. However, while last week the company slipped in stating Windows 8 will be launched in 2012, there has been little talk so far of Microsoft at Computex.

Huang noted that it is too early for Nvidia to talk about Windows on ARM, as questions about this should be answered by Microsoft at this point.

As for all the talk of new players disrupting its dominant position in the PC industry, Intel said it is humbled by some of the challenges in the market, but noted that in terms of significant sales, the tablet market currently only consists of the Apple iPad. Intel will have to see how the user experience is for people and whether they are happy with the level of driver support, stated Intel general manager of global communications Paul Bergevin. If eventually there is a real challenge, Intel will welcome it, as it will be the consumer, the enterprise and ultimately Intel that will benefit from strong market competition, he added.

Intel sees power consumption as being one of its key challenges with respect to ARM, but it argues that ultimately it will be performance that matters. Intel will remove power faster than competitors will add performance, Bergevin stated, while adding that as the complexity of user demands increases, the industry will continue moving toward Intel's strength, which is stronger performance and greater capabilities. Intel also pointed out that it has the scale of manufacturing and investment that few other companies have, and the company is focused on a particular roadmap.

Moreover, Bergevin said that it would be laughable to say the market is in a post PC era. A look at the tablet market shows that table PCs are in the early stages of penetration, and Intel does not see the market as in a state of either/or when it comes to PCs and smartphones. The PC market has still only scratched the surface and Intel sees a lot of opportunities ahead. For example, in emerging markets such as Indonesia - which is the fourth most populous in the world - the household PC penetration is only 5.6%. Perhaps the first device users access the Internet with in that market is a smartphone, Bergevin explained, but those users will still be saving up for a computer, which is becoming increasingly affordable in emerging markets. It is not about somebody wining and somebody losing, Bergevin said, as there are different situations where desktops, laptops or smartphones would be advantageous and most people would look to have all three at their disposal.

No comments:

Post a Comment